New York Yankees: 4 Reasons David Robertson Will Succeed Mariano Rivera
In 1997, the New York Yankees kicked John Wetteland to the curb for their young Panamanian set-up man, and have been spoiled rotten ever since.
This young hurler, Mariano Rivera, has saved 583 games (and counting) since then, and is pitching just as well in 2011 as he ever has.
Watching Mariano pitch throughout the course of a year is like watching a season of House: They both solve cases that seem impossible better than anybody else could imagine, and even when they screw up, you still somehow walk away impressed.
Still, while his pitching might fool you, Mo is 41 years old, and he may need to be replaced sooner than we think.
We see sudden drop-offs in the MLB all the time, and Mo's former and current teammates are a few of them.
Bernie Williams suddenly went from hitting .333 to .263 in just one season, Derek Jeter plummeted from .334 to .270 and Jorge Posada dipped from .285 to .248. These things happen.
Of course, a reliable bullpen is crucial for a good team that strives to be great, and Mariano has made that difference in five World Series champions.
But who's next in line?
Joba Chamberlain's unfathomable 2007 campaign made us think it was him, but he has struggled with consistency ever since.
Rafael Soriano and his ridiculous contract looked like a viable option, but he's been injured, and he isn't the youngest guy on the team himself.
Eventually Joe Girardi will have to turn to another name in his trusted binder to make the last three outs of a game.
Right now, it seems as though that name will be David Robertson.
Robertson is a great young reliever with all the tools a pitcher needs to close out games.
Let's take a look at what makes Robertson the prime candidate.
Robertson has been absolutely obliterating his opponents in 2011.
He's made 43 appearances, totaling 40 innings.
In that time, he's had an incredible 1.58 ERA with a 1.38 WHIP.
His 1.5 WAR on the season, which might not sound too impressive, has him tied in third amongst relievers (with Rivera and several others).
Robertson has also struck out 63 batters, putting his K/9 (strikeouts per nine innings) at a staggering 14.18, fourth amongst relievers.
His 11.96 career K/9 is second best in the league right now, with just Carlos Marmol ahead of him.
His fastball has crushed batters, with a solid changeup and curveball to help mix things up.
Robertson, a right-hander, has also been extremely effective when facing lefties.
ESPNNewYork's Marc Simon noted, "Robertson has struck out nearly one-third of the lefties he's faced in his career, a rate that ranks second-best among right-handers in that time, and fourth-best among all pitchers who have faced at least 300 lefties in that span..."
This is imperative for a bullpen guy, as an important matchup could save from using a lefty specialist–something that is necessary for a possible closer.
Simon goes on to tell us that, prior to the article's May 26th date, Robertson had struck out 17 of the 37 batters he had seen with the bases loaded in his career, and seven of the last eight.
In Tuesday's game against the Seattle Mariners, Robertson's streak of 10 Ks with the bases juiced was snapped by a weak ground ball that gave Eric Chavez some trouble at third.
Robertson quickly recovered by sending Ichiro back to the bench after whiffing on a fastball.
Strikeouts are a great stat with the bases loaded (or even with just a runner on third) because it eliminates the possibility of a run scoring on a ball hit in play.
Topped off by a first-time All-Star selection, here's guy who is putting together a tremendous season.
Other Options Not Promising
Rafael Soriano, pictured on the left, has been the most overpaid Yankee pitcher since Kei Igawa.
Sure, it probably isn't fair to judge a guy who has only pitched in 16 games this year due to elbow problems.
Still, in those healthy 16 games, his pitching was enormously sub-par.
A 5.40 ERA speaks for itself, and his 1.73 WHIP has almost two batters on base per inning.
When looking at his individual games, there were four in which he looked exceptionally awful. Three of those games were easily in the team's grasp, and the other was a 2-0 loss to the Chicago White Sox.
Three games might not seems like much, but in a tight division race it could easily make a difference.
I wouldn't be so critical if it weren't for the short period of time in which he blew these games, and if it weren't for his Cashman-disapproved $35 million contract over just three years.
The 31-year-old will have the opportunity to prove me wrong when he returns, but as of now, he hasn't looked too good.
Joba Chamberlain was another pitcher who the Yankees thought might be able to finish games at some point, but it doesn't look like he's qualified either.
Joba's '07 was unreal. He turned in a 0.38 ERA in 24 innings, and Yankee fans were sure he was the real deal.
2008 was also an exciting season for Joba, as his 2.60 ERA showed his realistic potential.
However, 2009 and 2010 were very grounding for the likable young pitcher.
A 4.75 and 4.40 ERA in those respective seasons was tough on the Yankee bullpen, leaving less options for Girardi to turn to in bridging the gap between the starter and the Sandman.
This season was brighter for Joba, sporting a 2.83 ERA, until he was placed on the DL on June 6th due to the infamous Tommy John surgery.
Don't get me wrong: I am confident that both of these guys can be positive contributors as soon as they return, but both have proven too erratic to be given Mariano's job.
Big League Personality
Yeah, I know, in 2011 it would sound corny if I wrote that Robertson will be a better pitcher because he's a stand-up guy who gives a lot back to the community and never gives a bad interview.
On the other hand, it is something that should be appreciated, as players in general have become spoiled brats who's priorities often put baseball second to dollar signs.
Every successful closer must be as mentally stable as he is physically able.
As a young pitcher who throws in the biggest city in America, in front of the most critical crowd you'll ever find, Robertson remains cool, calm and collected.
Robertson was even given props by the reigning NL MVP, Joey Votto.
The Daily News' Mark Feinsand quoted Votto, admitting, "'He doesn't seem like he gets scared,' Votto said. 'He goes right after guys.'"
Also, Robertson's "High Socks For Hope" charity, created along with his wife, Erin, is great.
It's always nice to see your stars contributing to what they believe in, setting an example off the field.
Even though there are plenty of charitable players with ice-cold veins, it can't be stressed enough how much a closer's personality means.
These guys are on the mound during the most decisive point of the game!
For example, just looked at what happened to the Bombers' neighbors, the New York Mets.
Francisco Rodriguez's 2008 with the Los Angeles Angels, collecting 62 saves, made him look like the best closer in the game, earning him a big payday.
The Mets, of course, were the ones unfortunate enough to fork over $36 million over three years to the head-case.
As was the case with Soriano, it never feels right to blame a player for getting injured, but when it happens by way of punching your father-in-law, I'm pretty sure it is.
Developing several problems with various coaches to go along with his violent life at home, K-Rod, despite his talent, became surprisingly undesirable.
Of course, nearly every player can be held to the standard of "better personality than the guy who punches his relatives and fights with his coaches", but it's nice to know that your closer lives a stable, normal life.
A Bright Future
Another new stat that I found interesting is wFB, which means "fastball runs above average", according to FanGraphs.com. Robertson, with a 9.8 wFB, ranks eighth compared to qualifying relief pitchers, showing the effectiveness of his fastball.
This stat is intriguing because Robertson's fastball isn't relatively fast, displaying that he might be more reliable over a longer period of time.
Joba's loss of three miles per hour on his heater since that dominant stint in '07 helps realize that his numbers were too good to be true.
Robertson's fastball, at a consistent 93 MPH, which won't blow by many hitters, speaks to the possibility of his longevity.
The young reliever just has solid movement and hits his spots extraordinarily–a simple practice that has revived the career of his teammate, Freddy Garcia.
If fact, a writer at Pinstripe Partisan described Robertson's role best after watching a game last August:
Joe Girardi called upon David Robertson to get the final out, since Mariano Rivera was unavailable. David Robertson has been the Yankees' most reliable reliever since mid May. Despite his success lately, Robertson struggled in the ninth.
(...)With the tying run on third and the winning run on second, Jason Kendall stepped up to the plate. This was serious–so serious, that I covered my face with my hands and my hair. I couldn't watch this. I love David Robertson, but last night, he was no Mariano.
After what seemed like an eternity, but was actually eight pitches, Robertson got Kendall to swing and miss at a low curveball, thus averting the crisis.
There you have it.
That's what Mariano has done so well over the years and what CC Sabathia has made a living off of: pitching effectively despite not having their best stuff.
Every great pitcher in baseball will tell you the importance of keeping their cool when having trouble hitting spots, it's one of the most important things in baseball.
With the right stuff and the right attitude, I'm convinced that one day David Robertson will be the next Yankee closer.
If this season is any indicator, Yankee fans can not complain.